resses??In Irwin Shaw’s “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” Michael’s character may be questioned by the reader. He may seem to portray himself as an unfaithful husband who essentially gets caught in the act early on in the story. However, Michael had yet to do anything to physically betray his wife, and there is no proof that he would in the future.
In society, many spouses or fiancees have fantasized about having sexual relations with another man or woman. These people have probably questioned their faithfulness to their “better half” if they have succumbed to such temptation. However, so long as these thoughts do not become actions, they can not be judged as morally wrong. As a matter of fact, psychiatrists who help out struggling couples actually have their clients imagine that their spouse is someone else during sex or leisure to strengthen their relationship. It is perfectly all right to have such fantasies about others, just so long as that person does not act on them.
Michael is almost at once shunned by the typical audience since common belief states that if a man is happily married, he should not have any fantasies of or gawk at any other woman other than his wife. Michael is casually inspecting the moving art on Fifth Avenue when Frances points out:
“Look out,” Frances said as they crossed Eighth Street. “You’ll break your neck.” Michael laughed and Frances laughed with him. (Shaw p. 1034)
As Frances plans what she and Michael will do for the day, Michael is once again looking around at the women who pass by. Frances is visibly upset by Michael paying more attention to these women than to her, as most people would be, but before she can present her case, Michael proposes that they get a drink intending to evade the conversation completely.
While walking Michael makes it very clear that he has “not touched another woman” (p.1035). Michael states right away that he had not been unfaithful to Frances in their five years of marriage, but Frances is uneasy about this information. What hurts more during their conversations is that Michael is painfully honest. This offsets society’s argument that it would be much better to know if they had been cheated on than if someone did not and it continued anyway. Frances’s cries and argumentative points show that this is nowhere close to fact and that it seems to be much better for a couple if one lies about what he or she thinks or does behind his or her spouse’s back, as Frances portrays:
“Stop talking about how pretty this woman is or that one. Nice eyes, nice breasts, a pretty figure, good voice.” She mimicked his voice. “Keep it to yourself. I’m not interested.” (p. 1038)
Later in the story, Frances reveals her deepest fear that he is “going to make a move” (Paragraph 75, p.1037). Frances asks a demanding question to Michael of whether or not he knows if he is going to follow through with his fantasies, and Michael answers shadily:
“You know (if you’re going to cheat),” Frances persisted. “Don’t you know?”
“Yes,” Michael said after a while, “I know.” (p. 1038)
However, Michael never confirmed that he was going to cheat on Frances; she only assumes so. Frances then asks him to stay silent about the women he sees, although she started this whole quarrel in the first place. He calmly consents to her request and casually observes his wife walk off by staring incessantly at her legs, showing that he pines for her as well as any other woman he sees. Because Michael still shows fervent interest in her wife in doing this, he would really have no reason to cheat on his wife.
Although Michael may seem like a dishonest and cheating husband, he really proves to be the opposite. He is painfully honest with his wife. He is so much so that Frances begs him not to tell her about what he is thinking ever again. He does not say that he will cheat on his wife, and in his actions he shows that he may never cheat on Frances and will keep his fantasies in his mind only, where they will remain harmless. In a roundabout way, Michael proves that he is certainly a faithful husband to Frances.
Shaw, Irwin. “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses.” Literature: The Human Experience.
Eds. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz. 8th ed. New York: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2002. 1034.